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Cecil Hotel became home for these unhoused people. Now they need help

A man looks at mold on the wall of his room.
Rigo Veloso, 51, looks at mold on the wall of his room at the Cecil Hotel.
(Al Seib / For The Times)
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Good morning and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Aug. 28.

When the historic Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles opened 600 rooms for unhoused people, its private developers and the public had high hopes for what it could do.

But around April, Los Angeles Times reporter Jaimie Ding began receiving complaints from current residents: a broken elevator, dirty bathrooms, water leaks.

Jaimie first looked into the Cecil Hotel last year. A year after opening, more than 400 of its units remained empty. Slow-moving bureaucracy was among the problems that had prevented the Cecil from living up to its dream. Months later, the vacancy issue is being addressed, but for those who live there, problems abound.

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Rigo Veloso, 51, has been working on re-creating an old painting in his small room on the ninth floor. He’s been battling a persistent cough and keeps the fan on full blast to chase off a smell of mildew. For months, he has seen what he thinks is black mold growing under his window.

Residents have complained among themselves about the mold, Veloso said in May to Jaimie, but they aren’t quite sure what they can do about it.

“Everyone is grateful to have a place to live,” Jaimie told me, “but they’re also living in standards that no human should live in. They almost feel like they can’t complain.”

Support services are crucial — and scarce

Many tenants at the Cecil Hotel are transitioning to living indoors for the first time. Dora Gallo, who works at the nonprofit housing operator A Community of Friends, told Jaimie that it’s crucial to provide service to residents immediately.

“It’s not just about putting people in housing,” Gallo said, “it’s making sure people have all the tools they need to succeed in housing.”

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But at the Cecil, services are scarce. Here’s what Jaimie found:

Without an on-site service provider or adequate staffing, the building has devolved into chaos, residents say: Mice and roaches scurry around corners, violence leads to broken glass, and no one seems to care.

It’s a problem with poor planning and a complicated system for funding support services, Jaimie found. When the hotel opened at the end of 2021, the goal was to get residents in as quickly as possible. But it wasn’t clear at first who the tenants would be and what funding they’d be eligible for, making it difficult to plan for services.

They’re housed, and in need of help

Most of the Cecil’s residents use a government-funded emergency housing voucher to pay their rent. These vouchers do not come with additional funding for support services.

Many residents say they have lost touch with their case managers. But the job of these managers, who were from different nonprofit organizations funded by L.A. County, was to help find housing. Now that residents have it, it’s not clear whom to turn to for help.

Staffing at the Cecil is limited. There are seven full-time maintenance and janitorial workers and three administrators but no on-site mental health or healthcare workers.

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This creates problems in addressing the growing maintenance issues and violence that breaks out when tensions arise between residents.

“It’s not easy to house homeless people, and it requires a village,” Jaimie told me. “And without that village, it will simply not work.”

Read Jaimie’s full story: It takes a village to house homeless people. Residents say the Cecil Hotel is failing to provide

And now, here’s what’s happening across California from Ryan Fonseca:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. STORIES

Another heat wave is on tap for much of Southern California this week, raising public health concerns and the risk of wildfires. Temperatures are projected to reach up to 16 degrees above normal, prompting excessive-heat warnings and advisories across several counties. Los Angeles Times

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What could getting around Los Angeles look like in 20 years? Times contributor John Rossant explores an “optimistic scenario” of a future city that overcame its gas-guzzling car reliance and embraced e-bikes, public transit and other renewable modes of transportation. Los Angeles Times

An easily accessible trail at a nature center.
An easily accessible trail in Long Beach’s El Dorado Nature Center.
(Laura Newberry)

There’s plenty of places to hike around L.A., but many treks aren’t accessible to people who use wheelchairs, the elderly, children and others with limited mobility. Thankfully, The Times mapped out several local trails that are more inclusive. Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Some state legislators are imploring Gov. Gavin Newsom to give California scientists a new contract that guarantees increased wages. Thousands of state workers represented by the California Assn. of Professional Scientists have been bargaining for nearly three years, calling on the state to address salary disparities. The Sacramento Bee

San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood banned street sweeping nearly four decades ago. Now, with garbage piling up, residents there are trying to get the city to reinstate the service, but their bureaucratic battle is proving to be quite a slog. San Francisco Chronicle

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

Nine days after Los Angeles County transferred nearly 300 incarcerated youths into the reopened Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, violence erupted at the facility, leading to injuries and one teen briefly escaping. “Some county leaders have brushed off the recent incidents as growing pains,” my colleagues Rebecca Ellis and James Queally reported. “They’re optimistic that the new start will mark a turning point for a department where records show some officers are routinely not showing up for work.” Los Angeles Times

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An environmental group’s effort to close California’s last nuclear power plant received a legal setback last week. Friends of the Earth sued Pacific Gas & Electric over its plan to extend operations at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which had been set to shut down by 2025. A state Superior Court judge rejected the group’s lawsuit last week. Associated Press

Antioch police officers had been set to take the stand in a murder trial and answer questions under oath about racism within their ranks. But a legal maneuver by the Contra Costa County district attorney effectively nixed their subpoenas. This comes after racist texts sent by officers were made public and several former officers were federally indicted on corruption charges. Vallejo Times-Herald

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

An updated COVID-19 vaccine is slated to be available sooner than initially expected as transmissions of the virus rise this summer. Health officials say the increased cases and hospitalizations probably are due to the confluence of more summer travel, the back-to-school season and new Omicron subvariants. Los Angeles Times

The Biden administration has proposed a new marine sanctuary along the Central California coast, which would become the first such in the U.S. to be nominated by a Native American tribe. The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary has been pushed by tribal members for more than a decade. Under the proposal, the tribe would be involved in managing the sanctuary — spanning 5,600 square miles of ocean — which would be protected from energy development. NPR

Environmentalists are furious with state wildlife officials over their decision to relocate two mountain lions from the eastern Sierra Nevada to the Mojave Desert, where they starved to death. California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said they’d revised their policies regarding moving pumas to that region — and will stop relocating male lions altogether. Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA CULTURE

A young baseball player runs the bases and smiles.
El Segundo’s Louis Lappe celebrates as he rounds second after hitting a walk-off home run at the Little League World Series Championship on Sunday.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

El Segundo is celebrating after the beach city’s Little League team beat Curaçao on Sunday and was crowned Little League World Series champions. The team won five consecutive elimination games on its way to victory, becoming the first team from California to win the title since 2011. Los Angeles Times

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AND FINALLY

Today’s California landmark is from Kitti Homme of Kensington: the extremely exclusive parking spots at UC Berkeley.

A sign against shingled siding reads "Reserved for Nobel laureate."
A sign indicates where Nobel Prize winners can park at UC Berkeley.
(Kitti Homme)

Kitti explains:

UC Berkeley has the world’s greatest department of physics, as recently seen in the “Oppenheimer” movie. Well, here’s a distinctly Berkeley landmark: the parking spots reserved for Nobel Prize winners have changed since these signs are always getting stolen, but the reserved spots remain and they’re on everyone’s tour of the campus.

What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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